ABA Asks Supreme Court to Confirm Standard for Effective Counsel in Capital Cases

February 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
A police officer stands guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 15, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Thursday asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of an Arkansas man challenging the way a lower court assessed whether he received effective counsel during the punishment phase of his death penalty trial.

Timothy Wayne Kemp was convicted in Arkansas of four counts of murder and sentenced to death.

At issue is whether his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to adequately investigate and present mitigating evidence related to Kemp’s childhood abuse, fetal-alcohol exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both the trial court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the investigation of Kemp’s background as sufficient, although both concluded a more complete investigation could have prevented a death sentence from being imposed.

In its brief the ABA cited its own guidelines for the appointment of counsel in death penalty cases, arguing the trial court did not meaningfully apply the “prevailing professional norms” standard that governs this case.

The brief also points to the 1984 Supreme Court decision in Strickland v. Washington, in which the justices held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel also carried with it a means to assess whether a defense attorney was objectively deficient, and whether there was a reasonable probability that a competent attorney would have led to a different outcome.

The ABA brief said that in recent years courts have “seized on language” in a 2009 Supreme Court decision to avoid conducting a legal and factual analysis of whether counsel’s representation fell short of an objective standard of reasonableness in light of “prevailing professional norms.”

The effect in the Kemp case, the ABA brief argued, was that the lower courts upheld the death sentence even though his counsel’s failure to hire a mitigation investigator or perform a more robust background investigation “fell below relevant benchmarks for reasonable counsel performance.”

“Had this attorney fulfilled his duty to conduct a thorough investigation of Kemp’s background consistent with the Sixth Amendment and prevailing professional norms, the lawyer would have discovered evidence that would have likely saved Kemp from a sentence of death,” the brief said.The case is Timothy Wayne Kemp v. Dexter Payne, Director, Arkansas Department of Corrections.

In The News

Health

Voting

Supreme Court

Law Requiring Nonprofit Disclosures Gets Chilly Reception in Supreme Court
Supreme Court
Law Requiring Nonprofit Disclosures Gets Chilly Reception in Supreme Court
April 27, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- A California law that requires nonprofit organizations to disclose their donors met with skepticism among most of the U.S. Supreme Court’s justices during a hearing Monday. The law is opposed by coalitions of nonprofit organizations that say the disclosures could dry up their contributions... Read More

High Court Moves Away from Leniency for Minors Who Murder
Supreme Court
High Court Moves Away from Leniency for Minors Who Murder

WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices on Thursday moved the other way.The high court ruled 6-3 along liberal-conservative lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in... Read More

Supreme Court Asked to Give Access to Secretive Court's Work
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Asked to Give Access to Secretive Court's Work

WASHINGTON (AP) — Civil liberties groups are asking the Supreme Court to give the public access to opinions of the secretive court that reviews bulk email collection, warrantless internet searches and other government surveillance programs.The groups say in an appeal filed with the high court Monday... Read More

White House Commission to Study Expanding the Supreme Court
Political News
White House Commission to Study Expanding the Supreme Court
April 9, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - President Biden will sign an executive order Friday that creates a bipartisan commission to study expanding the Supreme Court, as he promised throughout the 2020 election, the White House said. The commission will be chaired by former White House counsel Bob Bauer and Cristina... Read More

Justices Side With Google in Copyright Fight With Oracle
Supreme Court
Justices Side With Google in Copyright Fight With Oracle
April 5, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Google in a long running copyright dispute over the software used in Android, the mobile operating system. The court decision was 6-2, as Justice Amy Coney Barrett had not yet been confirmed by the Senate when the... Read More

High Court Dismisses Case Over Trump Bid to Silence Twitter Critics
Supreme Court
High Court Dismisses Case Over Trump Bid to Silence Twitter Critics
April 5, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case over former President Donald Trump’s efforts to prevent critics from posting to his personal Twitter page, but Justice Clarence Thomas said a high court reckoning with the power of social media is on the horizon. “As... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top